Australian Trucking Association chair David Smith, owner of D&S Smith Haulage in South Australia, has never seen Australia’s freight network under so much pressure.
Speaking to Melbourne’s 3AW radio station, Smith said there is a chronic shortage of drivers, but also a concerning shortage of freight staff right across the board.
“The entire food chain is operating at the most least efficient level I’ve ever seen – it’s bad,” said Smith.
Although no accurate figures are available on the staffing hits the industry is taking from Omicron, Smith estimated that some rosters are down by as much as 30-40 per cent.
Smith said some of the intermediate solutions the association has put forward to the federal government include:
1. Engage with existing truck licence holders
Smith said there are a lot of people in the community with a truck licence who have either never used it, or haven’t used it recently.
“With some retraining and tuition, and probably some driving with a senior driver alongside them, we can bring them back up to speed,” said Smith.
“You could call them reservists if you like. So, we’re pretty keen to push that idea a bit further.”
2. Train Afghan refugees
Smith said there is “quite a number of” Afghan refugees in Australia, who under their visa conditions are classed as international students.
“The Afghan refugees I’m talking about have actually worked in Afghanistan trained by the Australian Army, driving Australian made heavy vehicles in a war zone, so what I’m alluding to is that they are more than capable of driving a heavy vehicle.
“But of course they’d lack the necessary skills in Australia, meaning road rules and English barriers.”
Smith conceded that it would take time and training to bring them up to speed, but one of the biggest problems at present is the cost factor.
“While they’re classed as international students it costs approximately $10,000 each to train them.
“If the visa was reclassified we could do that training for between $1000-$2000.”
3. Lower age for forkies
Smith also called for a lowering of the minimum age for for new-entry forklift drivers from 18 to 16 years, and also make the qualification competency based.
He said that would do several things, including taking some pressure off the distribution centres, which are also reeling from staff shortages, and also make it easier for operators, such as himself, to employ school leavers.